Steel City - 13" Deluxe Portable Planer with Helical Head 40200H (Rating: 2)

Note: I'll keep updating this as things progress. And italic items to clarify my original pronouns to make sure it's clear when I'm talking about Steel City or Highland, both who are helping me out with the issue as we speak.

My original review (2 stars)
I was excited to order this planer, and found it online at Highland Woodworking for $100 off.

I got it last week, and am really disappointed in it. Although I'd say the fit and finish of it isn't ideal (stuck on measuring tapes that they put on crooked, feels a little plastic-y) I was still pretty excited as I prepped it for use.

"Clean all unpainted metal surfaces with a household cleaner/degreaser"-Easy enough. When I removed all the packaging, there was a good deal of grease on the tables that had also dripped or run onto the plastic. At least it wouldn't be rusty… :) After giving it a good, solid cleaning (I'm in an engineering field… I do the details) I fired it off and it sprayed grease across the workshop. After much thought and consideration, I called their Steel City's support line.

I mentioned my experience and the guy said "Yeah, we have that problem with these all the time. I think they're too cheap to use those silica bags, and just cheap out with a ton of grease"-agreed! When I asked how to remove it, the solition was to take the housing and head completely apart, remove every one of the cutter heads, clean everything off twice (he said) including wiping the threads of every cutter attaching screw (he said that's where it hides and will come out for weeks) and then put it back together. I asked him if this is how all their tools ship-do they expect buyers to spend 4 hours taking their products apart, and he said no, this model just "seems to have that problem". Great.

Did I mention I bought if from a GA company and I live in CO? Not wanting to deal with shipping it back, I decided to postpone the degreasing and check the cut.

Ran the board through and there were noticable, not-sandable grooves-one of the cutter heads was obviously misaligned. Leaving the telltale stripe that they sell as an advantage of the helicalv. three knife head: if there's a grove, just replace one cutter and not the whole knife.

So I called them Steel City back. He said yep, "while you're at it removing the grease, just make sure all the cutters are seated fully". Can I take this to any local service shop and exchange it for maybe a better fastened version? "Nope. And in fact, that groove is normal. It comes with a tolerance of .0004" and will over X board feet move to (some other worse number) etc etc." Me: But the groove here is much deeper than that. "Take it apart and fix it then"

So now I have this thing. I paid $50 to ship it out here. And (very disappointingly) Highland Woodworking won't pay to ship the defective product they sold me back, so that's another $50.

Highland Update: I received the fast and perfect reply below from Highland Woodworking. Seems in my rant about the grease, we didn't connect on the grooved issue. I remember mentioning it, but I may have been so far into the grease that it didn't stick out. I want to reiterate here that Highland is doing a perfect job to remedy this and don't want anyone to associate them with the main issue. It was just a frustration that I sensed at the time not getting it shipped back, but now that we're clear there might be an actual issue, they're all about it with their (from everything I read and hear) fantastic customer service.

I was SO CLOSE to buying the Dewalt, but got sucked in by the helical head. Damn.

I'm usually not a brand boycotter, I know how things can just go wonky on an assembly line, and maybe another one would not have these issues, (although it sounds like the grease would be there) but the Steel City customer service "I don't give a s--" attitude was really disappointing.

I have one (unanswered) call into Steel City at the suggestion of the guy at Highland to see if they will reimburse me for the shipping to/from. I'm not holding my breath, but all in all, I wouldn't touch them with a 10 foot, grease covered pole. Buyer beware…

If you feel like calling Steel City (or Highland for that matter) and mentioning that what they did sucked, feel free :) I've tried…


Update, now 3 stars

So I got a nice call back from a higher up at Steel City. Although it took them a few days, he was VERY helpful and did a good job to address the issue. His feedback was that the head and cutters in NO WAY need to come out, and that he'll make sure their phone agents all know that.

He said his "grease trick" was to use non chlorinated brake cleaner. Remove the dust port (really just one bolt) and spray it on the head. Run it with rags underneath and it should come clean, and apparently leave no residue. Run a scrap board through it 2-3 times and it should be good.

I bumped the star on this rating for that, and once I can really run boards, I'll (hopefully) do it again.

Also to note: I mentioned that I was posting these reviews and that the grease is a common issue here, just something that might not get his product selected by a customer. He said he'd surf the sites and copy the reviews and send those to the factory to get them to try to change how they process the parts, etc. Pretty cool, and from the conversation I sensed he really would do that.


See the Highland Update, above and my comments below in response to the perfect reply from Highland's owner.

Final Update: 2 stars and sending it back

So I spent the day trying to degrease the planer and fix the grooving issue.

Grooves: It turns out on further inspection, that they were more of a plateau than grooves. There was an indentation (well two) but between them the wood was actually higher than the rest of the planed surface. I messed around with rotating the nearby cutters but it just seemed to move it and never solved it. Assuming that the degreasing would work, I figured it nothing else I'd move what could be the offending cutters (not square? Not perfectly flat? Different thickness?) to the absolute edges so they didn't have an impact on anything but the widest boards. Onto the grease…

Grease: I took the suggestion of the guy from Steel City and got non chlorinated brake cleaner. Took off the dust collector housing (the inside of which was, surprise, coated in grease). Sprayed the head as I carefully rotated it by hand, trying to avoid cutting myself on the slippery and sharp cutters. I had to go about 3 times spraying, wiping, q-tipping the head to get it as clean as I could. Ran a board and it was still greasy. So I opened it back up and realized that the inside of the cylinder where the cutter rotated was completely solid grease and sawdust. So another cleaning, this time trying to use the cutters to pull paper towels through the space to clear off the gunk. And of course since it ran, the head itself was gunked again… So after that, I decided to run it without a board to see if I could get any residual buildup out. Ran it for about 2 minutes and still got some minor spray on the table, but decided that if I put some dust into the system it would likely contain the residue (like the Steel City guy said) so I started running boards. They came out clean! I was feeling really good and ran a few more to check, and they too were clean. I started putting my pile of rags in the trash and celebrating my victory…

... too soon…

I looked on the table and there were now puddles of grease. After a lot of digging, I found that the housing in which the head rotates has little flutes or vents between the head and the roller wheels. Unable to reach them, I put a qTip up there and it came out coated. As an experiment, I ran the motor for about 3 minutes and apparently the heat (since no cleaner was up there) melted it enough to drip.

That was it. The quality of the plane is suspect and I'd already spent a day cleaning it, and grease started coming out from new, unexplored crevices.

End judgment:
I will still give the planer a rating based on my experience, but I'm sending it back to Chris at Highland given his offer to take it back. I'm going to go with the Dewalt 735 and follow my first instinct. Had it not been a grease ball and had it had the cutters alignable, it likely would have done the job. But given some items on the fit and finish, I still would have been disappointed: Measuring tapes misaligned, the dust collector held by three screws on the top but none on the bottom so it flexes with any pressure from the dust hose, some play in the depth adjustment (and the depth and the fixed depth settings all being off from what they said), etc.

For the same money ballpark, I'm going to go with the Dewalt. I would think from other reviews that maybe I got the one off lemon of the bunch, but that's all I can base my review on.

Going to be ordering the Dewalt tomorrow from Amazon (I get free 2 day shipping, the price is the best I can find, and looks that Highland doesn't carry it), but I can say, given the service, I'll buy future items from Highland, but likely not Steel City.